Are These 66 Catholic Schools, Parishes Ignoring Rules Meant to Stop Sex Abuse?
By Erin Banco
NJ Advance Media
February 1, 2018
|One in four parishes and schools in the Newark Archdiocese are out of compliance with a charter meant to prevent child sex abuse. (Ed Murray | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)|
More than six dozen parishes and schools in the Archdiocese of Newark may be out of compliance with a policy meant to protect children from sexual abuse, documents obtained by NJ Advance Media show.
Sixteen years ago, after the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops passed the historic Dallas charter meant to address the allegations of sexual misconduct in the church, dioceses across the U.S. were required to implement background checks and training for all staffers and volunteers working with children.
As part of that policy and in order to sustain accountability, parishes and schools were required to submit annual reports to the diocese listing the workers who had completed the screening and training and those who had not.
Documents obtained by NJ Advance Media show that in the Newark archdiocese, 24 percent of the parishes in 2017 did not submit a compliance report. That means 53 parishes could be fielding teachers, volunteers and other workers who may not have passed a background check, said an employee within the archdiocese.
However, it is unclear if all or some of the parishes and 13 schools included in the 2017 documents simply failed to file the paperwork in time or actually did not conduct the background screenings.
The archdiocese employee requested to remain anonymous because he was not authorized to speak on the matter.
"We just don't know all the details of what is going on in these parishes and schools and that is the problem," he said. "We don't know if many of our teachers working with children have pasts we should be concerned about."
NJ Advance Media contacted more than a dozen schools and parishes on the list and several said they faced staffing issues, adding they did not have enough people to file the necessary paperwork.
"It's really hard. A lot of people do not want to sign (the paperwork). It is a big pain in the butt," said one woman who answered the phone at a Bloomfield parish who identified herself as a secretary.
"We haven't done it in a while. We just can't get everyone together. People keep coming and going," she said.
A representative for Church of Our Lady of Grace and St. Joseph in Hoboken contacted on Wednesday said the parish was going to file its compliance report that afternoon.
Jim Goodness, director of communications for the Archdiocese of Newark, said the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) found the archdiocese overall in compliance for 2017, but he did not dispute that some parishes and schools did not file reports.
"The cardinal is a believer in the charter, and parishes have always been told to maintain policies for reporting, background checks and training," said Goodness. "Whenever or if ever there is an instance where there is less than full compliance, we aggressively act to bring the area into compliance."
"This is a big problem. These things -- background checks and training -- simply have to be done," said the Rev. Thomas Reese, a senior analyst with the National Catholic Reporter and former editor of America, a Catholic magazine. "Any parish or school that doesn't is nuts."
Even if the USCCB issues a letter to an archdiocese stating it is in compliance, it does not mean that all of its parishes and schools are, the source said.
For example, in 2016 an auditing firm conducted a study of the archdiocese and asked Newark to provide individual reports from just two parishes, the employee said. The archdiocese did not have the paperwork for those parishes, or for many others, but it still passed the compliance test, he said.
When he learned dozens of schools and parishes failed to submit their reports last year, Cardinal Joseph Tobin called a meeting of pastors and urged them to make compliance the highest priority, the employee said.
The documents show, however, that the problem may be more than just an administrative issue.
Each parish and school is required to apply for access to a server that allows them to conduct background checks for their workers and check for past criminal activity. Some of the 66 parishes and schools involved have failed for at least three years to apply for access and initiate the background check process, according to the documents.
The documents also show that those in charge of overseeing compliance have been pushing parishes to prioritize administering background checks and asking their workers to complete training.
They even asked pastors to make announcements from the altar at the end of each Mass about the need for employees and volunteers to comply.
According to the documents, despite the lack of reporting to the archdiocese, more parishes and schools filed their audit reports in 2017 than previously.
"People don't care about this until it happens to them, until something happens to their child," the employee said.
He described a scenario at his parish in New Jersey where a couple approached him about an usher they thought was acting inappropriately with children. They asked if the usher had a history of misconduct.
"I couldn't answer that question because I really didn't know. None of the paperwork had been done," he said.